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Music

The powerful career advice John Lennon gave to David Bowie

@josephtaysom

On paper, there’s arguably never been a finer collaboration than when John Lennon and David Bowie combined their talents on ‘Fame’, which firmly managed to match the vast expectations of two stars of such magnitude. Yet, a word of wisdom that the Beatle shared with Bowie would become even more valuable than another hit single.

The two artists would forge a friendship during a period when Lennon’s personal life was in a precarious moment. Around the time he first met Bowie in 1974, the singer found himself drowning in a sea of personal issues, which ultimately led to his estrangement from Yoko Ono and staring down at the bottom of the bottle.

His so-called ‘lost weekend’ was the darkest period of his career. Lennon lost his family, his sense of worth, and his grasp on reality. Instead, he filled his time with debauched antics with Harry Nilsson and spent around 18 months on the ropes. The duo crammed more wild antics in this spell than most people manage in a lifetime, but the good times didn’t come without devastating consequences. 

Surprisingly, however, Lennon remained prolific from a creative perspective, and his track with Bowie was perhaps his magnum opus from this period. While the duo only met a few months before recording the song, which came about organically from a conversation the two artists had while experimenting in the studio, sparks would immediately fly. Speaking to Classic Rock, Bowie revealed that the topic of fame was the nucleus of their exchanges, and it got his mind racing.

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“Yes. Actually, much more to the point, we’d been talking about management, and it kind of came out of that,” the singer commented. “He was telling me: ‘You’re being shafted by your present manager’ [laughs]. That was basically the line. And John was the guy who opened me up to the idea that all management is crap.”

At the time, Bowie had fallen out with his former close friend and then-manager, Tony Defries. The two of them would be embroiled in a legal dispute which would last decades because Defries maintained his rights to a portion of Bowie’s back catalogue, which made the singer resent him further.

As he’d reached global superstardom, Bowie felt like he no longer needed someone to help him up the ladder while simultaneously emptying his pockets along the way — and he immediately took up Lennon’s advice.

“That there’s no such thing as good management in rock’n’roll, and you should try to do it without it,” Bowie added. “It was at John’s instigation that I really did without managers, and started getting people in to do specific jobs for me, rather than signing myself away to one guy forever and have him take a piece of everything that I earn. You don’t have to end up signing your life away to some fool who’s just there kind of grabbing hold of the coat-tails.”

That year, Bowie would part ways with Defries, even though he’d continue to linger in the background, his career was firmly in his own hands for the rest of his career. Truth be told, he was the definition of pure artistry, which was the only light he needed to guide him rather than figures.